Unpuzzling a Cemetery Plot
By Bertrand K. Macpherson
April 18, 2001
Usually when a person dies, he is buried in a cemetery, and a gravestone
is erected to tell about him.
As genealogists know, every grave is different. Some graves have
no markers. Some have elaborate ones. Some have names. Some tell
a lot about the person. Some don't say much.
In my research for my OPDENWEYER ancestors -- my great-grandfather
on my mother's side was Otto M. Opdenweyer -- I discovered that
other people with that name were buried in a cemetery in Livingston
One of my BOWMAN cousins sent me a copy from the Edward Livingston
Historical Society book on cemeteries in the parish.
Here's what it said:
"Felder Cemetery Record p. 219, row M., No.
29, H.H.D. Opdenweyer,
30, M.O. Opdenweyer,
31, J.F.R. Opdenweyer,
32, C.A.S. Opdenweyer,
33, L.R.S. Opdenweyer,
No. 30, S.R.D. Opdenweyer,
No. 31, Martha R. Opdenweyer (June 11, 1869 to June 13, 1950)
No. 32, J.W.O. Sr. Opdenweyer,
No. 33, Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton,
No. 34, F.R.O. Opdenweyer,
No. 35, F.D.S. Sr. Opdenweyer
No. 17, Lela Opdenweyer (1888-1978)
No. 18, Robert A. Peiter (1889-1964)
No. 19, J.W.O. Jr. Opdenweyer,
No. 20, Aunt Sylvy Opdenweyer
No. 21, C.R.E. Opdenweyer
No. 22, M.R.E. Opdenweyer
These inscriptions were copied in June 1978."
A number of members of the society walked the cemetery and wrote
down what "they thought" were the names associated with the stones
in the graves.
I am not casting blame on anyone for what they wrote. But they
made an assumption, which turns out not to be true.
There are 23 graves within the borders of a plot, which is 30 by
50 feet. It is ringed by a concrete curb.
The original description seemed to indicate that the sites were
in rows along with all the others in the cemetery. They are not
in rows, except within the plot.
In my opinion, the key to the graves is a six-feet tall black marble
monument which is located a few feet from the graves in the first
row inside the plot. This monument was NOT mentioned in the original
report on the graves.
The names engraved on the monument are: Papa, Mama, baby Mary.
They are James Felix Robertson, Cornelia Ann Spiller and Mary Opdenweyer,
who died at age 7.
|Click photo to enlarge
Looking at the monument, one can realize that the JFR and CAS on
stones below are the Robertsons. They were the grandparents of Mary
Opdenweyer whose gravestone is next to theirs. Hers says "MO."
There are NINE Opdenweyer graves that I have identified. The rest
of the graves belong to other people, who may or may not have been
related to the Opdenweyers.
It is also unknown at present WHO bought the plot. It may have
been Robertson who married Cornelia in 1859. According to census,
he was born in Mississippi. Cornelia was born in 1834 in St. Helena
Parish, a section of which became Livingston Parish.
The first grave belongs to Henry H. Denham (1855-1928). His name
is spelled out on a raised marker on the vault. Then his initials
"HHD" appear on the foot of the vault.
On the smaller grave next to his the initials "HHD" also appear.
According to the 1910 census, this probably was Henry Denham Jr.
Once it is realized that SPILLERS are buried here, the other graves
that end in S are probably Spillers.
I believe that "LRS" is Levi R. Spiller (1836-1897), who was a
brother of Cornelia Ann.
Next to him is Mattie (Martha Ann) Spiller, a sister of Cornelia
Ann and Levi. Mattie was the wife of Captain R. M. Amacker, who
was NOT buried with her. He was buried in Port Vincent, LA.
The second row in the plot starts with "SRD", who was Sarah R.
Denham, wife of Henry, according to the 1910 census.
Next is Martha Opdenweyer, who died in 1950. She was a Robertson
and married to John W. Opdenweyer Sr., who lies next to her as "JWO
Next is Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton, who was a daughter of Frank M.
Next is "FRO" whom I perceive to be Fanny Robertson (perhaps) Opdenweyer,
probably the wife of Frank M. There was a Fanny listed with him
in the 1900 census. In civil records at the Livingston courthouse,
I found reference to Frances Robertson Opdenweyer who could have
been the Fanny. And I receive a death index record for Frances R.
"TDS Sr" is another Spiller, probably Thomas (1827-1867), a Civil
The next row starts with Leila Opdenweyer, who died in 1988. She
was a daughter of Martha and John.
Next to her are Edith DENHAM Peltier and her husband, Robert Peltier.
Edith appears with her family in the 1910 census.
Next to them is John W. Opdenweyer Jr. The next plaque on the vault
says "Aunt Sylvy," who may have been the family maid or servant.
John Jr. did not marry and was killed in a car wreck in 1936.
Frank M. was listed as "Optenwire" on his plaque. He was omitted
in the original list.
The next row contains Cornelia DENHAM Doran and her husband, Edwin
Doran, followed by "M.S.E." and "C.R.E." I have not identified what
the "E" signifies. But these are not Opdenweyers as the historians
Here's how I interpret the list:
H.H.D. Opdenweyer, Henry H. Denham
M.O. Opdenweyer, Mary Opdenweyer
J.F.R. Opdenweyer, James Felix Robertson
C.A.S. Opdenweyer, Cornelia Ann Spiller
L.R.S. Opdenweyer, Levi R. Spiller
S.R.D. Opdenweyer, Sarah R. Denham
Martha R. Opdenweyer (June 11, 1869 to June 13, 1950)
J.W.O. Sr. Opdenweyer,
Thelma Opdenweyer Dutton,
F.R.O. Opdenweyer, Fanny Robertson Opdenweyer
F.D.S. Sr. Opdenweyer, Thomas D. Spiller Sr.
Lela Opdenweyer (1888-1978)
Edith Denham and Robert A. Peiter
J.W.O. Jr. Opdenweyer,
Aunt Sylvy Opdenweyer, possibly the family servant
C.R.E. Opdenweyer, still unknown
M.R.E. Opdenweyer, still unknown
The Robertsons, Spillers, Denhams and Opdenweyers were all related.
These vaults appear a few inches above the ground. Caskets were
under the vault with a lid. There is a slab on top of most of the
vaults, then the plaque attached to the head. Some have said these
graves had no headstones, but they do. They just don't say much.
Why only initials were used is anyone's guess.
Four children of William and Mary are not buried in Felder. They
are William Henry,who moved to Oregon; Louise, who married James
Heap, and who died in Oregon, Sophie, who probably died in California,
and Charles E. who died in 1894 at age 15.
And William Charles Opdenweyer, the postmaster, general store operator
and sawmill founder, is not buried in Felder, nor is his wife, Mary
Vugeley, who ran the sawmill until her oldest son, John Sr., could
take over the reins.
William C. Opdenweyer was the older brother of my great-grandfather,
Otto, who's burial site is still unknown.
On Aug. 22, 1998, I received the two death certificates for Martha
and Leila Opdenweyer, who were mother and daughter.
Martha was the wife of John W. Opdenweyer Sr., apparently, who
was the operator of the Opdenweyer Brothers Cypress Co. in Sorrento
and New Orleans, LA. Her maiden name was Robertson, daughter of
Felix Robertson and Cornelia Ann Spiller.
Martha died on July 13, 1950, at 9:30 pm of a heart attack in Baton
Rouge General Hospital. She was 81 years old, 1 month and 2 days
old, having been born on June 11, 1869 in Port Vincent, Livingston
Parish, LA. The certificate stated that her husband was J. W. Opdenweyer,
deceased. She had been a housewife, living on Airline Highway in
Baton Rouge, LA. Two months before her death, she suffered a fractured
hip, slipping at her home.
Leila Opdenweyer was a daughter of Martha and J. W. Opdenweyer.
She never married.
She was born Oct. 20, 1888, in Livingston Parish, LA. She was a
retired music teacher at Louisiana State University. She died on
Jan. 24, 1978 of influenza and congestive heart failure at the age
of 89. At her death, she was living at her mother's home at 4760
Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, LA.
The informant for her information on the certificate was furnished
by Walter E. Busby of Baton Rouge. Another name that was scribbled
under Busby's was D. Ducote. The informant for Martha Opdenweyer
was Felix R. Spiller.
My thanks go to Lucille Bowman Cooper Denham, Claude Slaton, Lee
Bowman and Brenda Felder who sent me information on these graves
from February, 1998. I went to see the graves for myself on June
11 and 13, 2000, so I was able to solve a mystery.
- Bertrand K. Macpherson
Bertrand K. Macpherson,
age 69, is a retired newspaper copy editor, living in Lima, OH,
and has been doing his genealogy almost fulltime since 1995.